NHL draft lottery: Maple Leafs win 1st-overall pick
American Auston Matthews widely regarded as top prospect
Six. Eight. Five. Thirteen.
It was that sequence of four numbers, the 162nd of 200 randomly assigned combinations, that won the Toronto Maple Leafs the draft lottery on Saturday night. Toronto, which finished 30th overall this season, had the best odds (20 per cent) of winning the lottery and will pick No. 1 overall for the first time in 31 years.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan declined to say who the club was prepared to select with that pick, though he said the team had a pretty good idea already. American centre Auston Matthews is widely seen as the top available prospect.
"I'll just say that our scouts were very pleased with tonight's results," Shanahan said shortly after the lottery's conclusion.
Matthews, if the Leafs opt to choose him, would be a significant addition to an already blossoming pool of young talent in Toronto, which includes William Nylander, Mitchell Marner and Morgan Rielly, among others.
Matthews, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native, played this past season in Switzerland and scored 22 goals and 46 points in 36 games. The 18-year-old is also set to represent the United States at the upcoming world championship.
Matthews leads talented pool of prospects
He would presumably fill Toronto's long-term No. 1 centre spot, plugged by less than ideal options following the departure of long-time team captain Mats Sundin.
Shanahan described Matthews as someone used to a leading role, a centre with good size (six-foot-two, 194 pounds) who can score from the perimeter and from around the net.
"He's definitely somebody that has earned the right to be where he is today," Shanahan said.
Still, Toronto's president made it known that whomever the club chooses at No. 1 will be just one player among many.
"I wouldn't put too much pressure on any one player," he said. "The more players you can get of a high calibre, obviously that's a good thing. But we also recognize that at this stage whoever's coming in here is going to be a young person, a rookie, and not going to have the weight of the world thrust on their shoulders.
"This is not going to be a saviour. That's not the way the game is played these days. You need to have a full team."
The NHL performed three separate lotteries for the first-, second- and third-overall picks for the first time this year.
The Winnipeg Jets proved the second big winner after Toronto, jumping four spots into No. 2 overall. Two other Canadian teams had their fortunes spoiled, meanwhile, with the Edmonton Oilers falling two spots into the No. 4 selection and the Vancouver Canucks tumbling into the fifth.
"I have to admit, it was very nerve-wracking," said Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Finnish wingers Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are expected to follow Matthews at the top of the draft, leaving one, potentially, in the hands of Winnipeg.
Toronto last picked No. 1 in 1985
The Leafs last picked first in 1985, selecting Wendel Clark from the Saskatoon Blades.
Toronto has been rebuilding in earnest under Shanahan since the middle of the 2014-15 season, seeking to become a consistent contender for the Stanley Cup, which the club hasn't won since 1967. The Leafs have shuffled out core players like Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf in exchange for future assets, including a second first-round selection in June.
The Leafs currently hold 12 picks for the upcoming draft, some acquired at the February trade deadline. A purged roster, which demonstrated obvious improvement nonetheless under head coach Mike Babcock, eventually tumbled to 30th place and the best odds at winning Saturday's lottery.
Shanahan, who learned the result on live television, described the result as "Welcome news for the city of Toronto and our fans."
"They needed some good news and while there's still a lot of work to be done, this was some good news for them and they deserved it," he said. "I hope they're out in the streets of Toronto right now just feeling a little bit better."
2016 NHL Draft Order:
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
2. Winnipeg Jets
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
4. Edmonton Oilers
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. Calgary Flames
7. Arizona Coyotes
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Montreal Canadiens
10. Colorado Avalanche
11. New Jersey Devils
12. Ottawa Senators
13. Carolina Hurricanes
14. Boston Bruins